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Ask Ina Your Questions

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Ina Vandebroek travels to some pretty wild places to learn about plants and the people who use them as medicine. She’s also a salsa dancer, not to mention a poet and a photographer. How could you not ask her questions. See what she had to say back below.

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Q: Ruth

I am a dance therapist and yet the use of my art form in therapy is stunted by overgrowth of other more traditional concepts. I am specifically thinking about the collaborative project in NYS to improve mental health of all children (ENGAGE). Your salsa dancing is such a good common denomenator for research, learning, healing, etc. How did you know? If you tell me, maybe I can be more effective in contributing to the project. I know the same, but you are successful in promoting the magic.
Thank you. Ruth

A: Ina Vandebroek

Hi Ruth, I actually started the other way around, with research, and salsa came later. But I agree with you that salsa in itself is a great basis for study and learning, about another culture and about oneself. I guess my interest in salsa grew out of a deeply rooted passion for music and dance but I did not get involved until I started working on a research project with Dominican ethnomedicine at the New York Botanical Garden. While doing research on traditional practices from the Caribbean, salsa music caught my ears and eyes, and I loved it. I believe it is all about balance. Balancing science with art, or dance, or music. Perhaps you are already building on the research component of your dance therapy? Strengthening it from that angle might add to its effectiveness and open new doors. Best of luck with your endeavors!

Q: Cherissa

What’s your favorite subject on science?

A: Ina Vandebroek

I’m really into learning more about how knowledge of medicinal plants is distributed within a culture. Not everybody knows the same, and I am interested in the variation in plant knowledge according to someone’s gender, age, status and other personal characteristics. Ethnobotany is by nature such an interdisciplinary science because it incorporates methods and concepts from both botany and anthropology that it will keep me busy for a long time. However, I am also interested in science other than ethnobotany. Before I became an ethnobotanist. I studied animal behavior and what goes on in the brain when an animal performs a certain type of behavior.

Q: CP Petersen

Do you think there is or will be more of a substantive movement toward researching the use of plant sources in creating new therapies for cancer eradication?

A: Ina Vandebroek

Natural products research into isolated plant compounds that are active against cancer has known its highs and lows. During 25 years until the early eighties the National Cancer Institutes randomly screened about 40,000 plant species (total number of plant species on earth has been estimated around 400,000). However, even though many antitumor compounds were identified, hardly any new drugs were developed from that screening. There are many reasons for this, including undesirable side-effects or high toxicity of an isolated compound. Therefore, very few compounds actually go on to clinical trials were they are tested in human volunteers and these trials are very costly. The use of information from ethnobotanical studies where plants have a long history of use in humans is considered a more cost and time effective method for the selection of plants for further study in the laboratory. However, this kind of ethnobotanical information should respect the intellectual property rights of the cultural group that holds information about the medicinal uses of plants, which leads us into a whole different kind of debate. Currently, biosprospecting for active plant compounds still takes place but at a much reduced scale in comparison with twenty years ago. However, the discovery of a new drug from a plant may well trigger the next wave of biosprospecting.

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.